The Farmers

We’re well into Spring and I have not yet started this season’s renovations on the Neebor Lee house and its outbuildings. At least not in earnest. My wife and I have instead been making the 170-mile round trip journey to our old house in northwestern New Jersey to get it ready for sale. After 18 living months here in Pennsylvania, getting that New Jersey house on the market was long overdue. We spent the last four weekends completing repairs and improving that house’s curb appeal. Among the repairs made were the replacement of vinyl siding that had melted from an unfortunate barbecue fire about 8 years ago, repairs to leaky toilets and faucets, replacement of a broken door handle, replacement of carpets and some minor painting. We also mulched, trimmed overgrown bushes and trees, planted flowers and did whatever we could in a short time to improve the outside appearance of the property. I’m now happy to report that the old New Jersey home is on the market and perspective buyers have begun viewing it. We’re hoping that it sells quickly.

That leaves me with not much to write about here in Pennsylvania. Besides my annual poison ivy killing spree (with vines climbing 30 plus feet on some trees!) and one afternoon of scraping paint off the exterior of the Mason Lodge, we haven’t yet started this season’s big projects. With such a lack of progress leaving me with nothing significant to write about, I’ve decided to focus this blog post on the next phase of the history of the Neebor Lee.  In particular, I wanted to focus on a period in history when the Neebor Lee property was a modest farm.  In the 103 year history between 1758 and 1861 the owners of the Neebor Lee property farmed the land and the house, once it was built, was nothing more than a simple stone farmhouse. The farmers who owned the property were not wealthy men; they did not own slaves and had no servants. Rather, by all accounts, these were hard-working ordinary men trying to survive in early America.

Horning_Holdings_1785
Tax record of Michael and Peter Horning’s properties in 1785, the year that Peter Horning built the Neebor Lee house.

On March 9, 1758, 252 aces of property that then included the land on which the Neebor Lee house was to be later built was conveyed by future Revolutionary War soldier Henry Vanderslice to his cousin, Rinear Vanderslice. Seven years later, in 1765, Rinear sold 152 acres of that land to Ludwig Horning, retaining 100 acres for himself. Unlike his patriot-soldier cousin Henry, Rinear remained on the sidelines during America’s War for Independence; he did not participate as a soldier either for the Americans or the British. Rinear Vanderslice instead remained in Providence Township quietly farming the land. He passed away in 1793.

Ludwig Horning (1707-1802), a German who emigrated to the colonies in 1732,  would eventually split the 152 acres he purchased from Rinear Vanderslice between his two sons, with 100 acres going to his son Michael and 52 acres going to his son Peter.  Ludwig’s sons were not particularly wealthy, with the local 1769 tax record indicating the extent of Peter’s wealth as being one horse, four cows and three sheep. Years later, in 1785, his economic standing had not improved much. He did construct the stone dwelling that would later be called the Neebor Lee house. However, according to that year’s local tax record his remaining property consisted of the 50 acre property and three horses and four cows. Thus, in the 16 years since the 1769, Peter was up by two horses and one stone house but was also down by three sheep.

The house he built, however modest it was in appearance, was sturdy. Its stone walls were 19 inches thick, it was two stories tall and was constructed with two sets of living spaces for two families. As written in an earlier post, Peter built this house in 1785 after the war in order to entice his oldest son from emigrating to Canada. Today, very little of the original structure is visible. Much of the original stone walls were covered by stucco (exterior) or were hidden by wainscoting (interior) during later renovations. The only places where the original stone is still visible is in the rear of the house where they form what is now an interior wall following the construction of later additions to the house.

The house wasn’t enough to keep Peter Horning’s son, a Tory who fought for the Crown, from emigrating to Canada. With his own economic standing in jeopardy due to his sympathies for the British during the war, Peter followed his sons to Canada to start a new life.  The 1786 tax record does not identify Peter Horning as owning property in Providence Township, Pennsylvania. Apparently, he had already emigrated to Canada by the time that year’s taxes were levied. Peter would eventually find his success in Ontario, Canada, where he would amass thousands of acres of land.

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The rear wall of the house built by Peter Horning in 1785 now serves as the interior wall of the house’s office and kitchen, which were later additions to the home.

Peter Horning’s 52 acres were purchased by William Thomas in 1788. I could find no record on William specific to Upper Providence Township, Pennsylvania with the exception of a 1790 tax listing. He did not own the property long. In 1790, he sold the land with the Neebor Lee house to Abraham Reiff.

Abraham Reiff is better documented in the historical record than William Thomas.  Abraham was born on December 3, 1754 in Providence Township. He did not serve in a military capacity during America’s War for Independence, which is consistent with his religious Mennonite beliefs. He was one of the first Trustees of his Mennonite church. According to the 1790 Federal census, Abraham was the father of three sons and one daughter when he moved into the Neebor Lee house. His household grew further to include another son, who was the first child to have been born in the Neebor Lee house. Abraham had no servants and no slaves and lived on the Neebor Lee property for 36 years, which was the property’s longest individual ownership, until his death on August 16, 1826.

Less than a year after Abraham Reiff’s death, the Neebor Lee was purchased by Abraham Hendricks. Born in 1802, Abraham Hendricks was the first owner of the Neebor Lee property to have been born after the American Revolution. According to the 1830 Federal Census, Abraham lived in the Neebor Lee with his wife, Mary Hunsicker, their young children John and Elizabeth, and presumably his mother Barbara and three of his and/or his wife’s siblings. Abraham’s family would soon expand to include four additional children, Roger, Joseph, Mary and Sarah. The 1850 Federal Census further identifies Abraham’s niece, Sussanna Hendricks, and a 9-year old boy named Jonathon Bear also residing at the Neebor Lee house. The 1850 census valued the Neebor Lee property at $4300 ($130,000 in 2015 dollars).

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This 1830 Carpenter & Co lock was likely installed during the period when Abraham Hendricks owned the Neebor Lee house. This is not the oldest lock in the house; that honor goes to dead-bolt style rim lock that is still attached to the front door of the house. Both the Carpenter lock and the older rim lock are still functional and still have their original keys.

At least one element in the Neebor Lee house can be attributed to Abraham Hendricks. The door exiting the dining room (which was the old winter kitchen) to the front of the house is adorned with a Carpenter & Co  lock that was manufactured in the year 1830. We determined the year of manufacture from the year of the lock’s patent, which was 1830, and the year in which an English king died, which was also 1830. The death of King George IV was an important factor in dating the age of this English-made lock due to a stamp on the lock’s keeper. Stamped into the metal is a crown with the initials “GR” stamped next to it. The crown and initials signify that the lock was manufactured during the reign of King George IV. After the King George IV died, James Carpenter had his locks stamped with the initials “WR” to signify their manufacture during the reign of King William IV, who succeeded King George IV.

Like Abraham Reiff before him, Abraham Hendricks was a Mennonite. However, Abraham Hendricks and members of his extended family were more progressive than other Mennonites. So much so, in fact, that Abraham Hendricks and other like-minded Mennonites were expelled from the Mennonite church in 1851. The expelled members subsequently chartered “The Christian Society of Freeland” and formed the Trinity Christian Church in the town of Freeland, which was later to be renamed Collegeville when the railroad established a station in that town. Abraham served in the First Council of Deacons of that church and was one of its Elders. The church operated the Freeland Seminary, which later became Ursinus College.

By 1860, the Federal Census reveals that only Abraham and his two daughters, Mary and Sarah, remained in the Neebor Lee house. Abraham was by then a widower with his wife Mary having died five years earlier in 1855. One year after the census, in 1861, with his daughters having reached an age when they too would soon be leaving the household, Abraham sold the Neebor Lee. He would move to nearby Collegeville where he would die tragically in 1877, having been killed in a railway accident in which he was struck by a locomotive cowcatcher and thrown over an embankment.

The sale of the Neebor Lee in 1861 would represent the end of the owner-farmer period. The property was to be now owned by a new class of people. They were the privileged offspring of industrialists and representatives of the coming Gilded Age. They would have a significant impact on the appearance of the Neebor Lee house which, over the next 110 years, would remain under the ownership one family.

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